Jaak Opsomer (brother of painter Isidoor Opsomer) studied organ at the Lemmens Institute, then still in Mechelen. After three years of study with Edgar Tinel (1889-1892) he pursued advanced studies at the Conservatory of Brussels with Alphonse Mailly, the successor of Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens. Meanwhile he also took the course of practical harmony with Adolphe Samuel. Subsequently at the Conservatory of Ghent Opsomer was taught again by Samuel, this time for counterpoint. In the class of Jozef Tilborghs he further improved his organ playing. In 1896 he was awarded outstanding first prizes for all his subjects (organ, counterpoint and fugue). In addition to his regular conservatory studies Opsomer was also privately tutored by August De Boeck for composition and orchestration.
After his studies Opsomer immediately found a position as organist at St Laurentius church in Lokeren, as successor of Arthur De Hovre. He was a versatile improviser at the organ, a gift which no doubt influenced his composition practice. In 1898 Opsomer also became teacher of solfège at the music school in Lokeren. While he resigned from both positions with a view to devoting himself exclusively to composition, he remained connected to the music school of Lokeren for a long time, serving as its director from 1932 till 1938 and subsequently as president of the Board of Governors, a task he fulfilled till his death in 1952.
Jaak Opsomer was a very prolific composer: he wrote many works for chamber music, choral works, cantatas and a patriotic oratorio, an operetta, two operas and three ballets. Thus in the season 1949-1950 the Royal Opera of Gent offered both his opera Een avond te Bagdad (An Evening in Baghdad) and his ballet Pan en de Nimfen (Pan and the Nymphs). But first and foremost Opsomer dedicated himself to the Lied: he wrote about three hundred songs, ranging across the whole gamut from art songs to narrative folksongs. For his texts he relied on Flemish poets such as René De Clercq and Lambrecht Lambrechts. Some fifty songs were collected in the anthology De Vlaamsche Zanger, the sixth installment of which was completely dedicated to Opsomer.
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Joris Duytschaever)